Carolyn Buppert, MSN, JD


October 02, 2015

In This Article
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A nurse wants some advice on whether law school is a good career move, and what opportunities might be available for nurse-attorneys.

Carolyn Buppert, MSN, JD
Healthcare attorney

Considering Law School

A nurse wrote, saying, "I am thinking of going to law school. What should I know, and what are my opportunities?"

When considering this career change, the issues to think about are:

  • Whether you can get into law school;

  • Whether you can meet the demands of law school and live with them for 3-4 years;

  • Whether you can pass the bar exam;

  • Whether, if you pass, you either can get a job or get enough clients to support yourself; and

  • Whether providing legal services is something you would like to do for many hours each day.

Getting into law school and passing the bar exam are analogous to what nurses do to get into nursing school and pass nursing licensure exams. It is the same process, with different subject matter. Much has been written elsewhere to guide law students and prospective students. Therefore, I won't spend time on those two considerations.

If you are a nurse considering law school, you should know what law school entails. Law students attend classes as full-time day students, or part-time day or evening students, depending on a school's offerings. A full-time day program takes 3 years. A part-time day program or an evening program takes 4 years.

It is possible, though difficult, to work full time and go to law school. If one works during the day and attends school in the evening, it will mean 4 hours of evening classes, 4 nights a week, in addition to days at work. And then there is the preparation time.

Preparation for class means reading and "briefing" cases. A brief is a summary of the facts of a case, procedural history, issues, the court's holding, and the court's reasoning. Law school classes are conducted using the Socratic method, which means that a professor selects a student and begins asking questions about an assigned case. The answers come from the student's brief. The professor continues to question until the student is out of answers. If a student is unprepared, he or she answers "pass." The academic consequences of "passing" aren't clear, but at minimum, a student who declines to answer is embarrassed. This teaching method serves to push students to come to class prepared.

For the first year, plan on spending 24 hours a week reading and briefing cases. For years 2-4, plan on 10-20 hours a week in preparation time, plus class time.

In addition to reading and briefing, law students are required to write papers and prepare oral arguments. Exams occur twice a year, and, in some classes, once a year. Exams are in essay form.

Those who graduate from law school and pass the bar exam should expect more of the same—reading, writing, and composing and presenting arguments. If a new attorney is employed by a firm, he or she should expect to put in 12-hour weekdays as well as some weekend time. Firms expect their associates (lawyers who are not partners) to bill 1900 hours a year. Attorneys log billable time (time that can legitimately be charged to a client) in 6-minute increments. Not every minute of a work day is billable, so count on working 8 hours to bill 6 hours.

If one practices solo, there is much more flexibility with one's work schedule and choice of projects, but one must find and sign up one's own clients and generate all of one's income, office expenses, and the salary of any assistants.

Let's look at some comments from experienced nurse-attorneys. I asked some members of The American Association of Nurse Attorneys (TAANA) why they went to law school, what they are doing now, and what advice they have for other nurses.


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